President Cyril Ramaphosa’s concession that the proposed minimum wage of R20 an hour does not constitute a living wage has strengthened the resolve of those opposing its implementation.
Ramaphosa, during his Freedom Day speech in Bloemfontein yesterday, addressed the discontent expressed by thousands of workers, who marched against the proposed national minimum wage (NMW) on Wednesday.
The strike, led by the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), was the result of an objection to the proposed national minimum wage, the proposed changes to the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which they say will curtail the rights of workers, including the right to strike.
Saftu on Wednesday accused government of “legalising poverty”, by allowing the implementation of the NMW, as it falls far short of “a decent salary”.
Ramaphosa, however, believes the NMW is a victory for workers, despite it not truly constituting a living wage.
“Some people have argued that the starting minimum wage of R20 an hour is not a living wage. They are correct. Some argue that the national minimum wage will not end income inequality. They too are correct,” he said. “But what the national minimum wage does provide is a firm and unassailable foundation … from which to advance the struggle for a living wage.”
Ramaphosa argued that the introduction of the NMW would provide relief to more than 6.6 million South Africans who currently earn less than R20 per hour, and would immediately benefit from an increase in income.
He believes it is something to be celebrated, saying “it will inspire others to go on with the struggle for a living wage”.
Saftu spokesperson Patrick Craven, however, took a dim view of Ramaphosa’s optimism.
“It’s bad enough that employers are not paying workers a living wage, but for government to pass a law legitimising it, when even the president himself admits it’s not a living wage, is scandalous,” he said.